Madonna’s St. Petersburg Concert Reignites Criticism of Anti-Gay Law
Madonna has long stood by the side of the gay community. The Material Girl once again proved her gay bona fides when she said she would publicly condemn a local law making the propagation of "homosexual propaganda" when she played St. Petersburg, Russia. She made the announcement a few days before her twelfth studio album "MNDA" dropped, on March 23.
"I will come to St. Petersburg to speak up for the gay community and to give strength and inspiration to anyone who is or feels oppressed," the singer told Bloomberg Businessweek. "I don’t run away from adversity. I will speak during my show about this ridiculous atrocity."
The controversial measure was approved by the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg and was signed into law by the city’s governor, Georgiy Poltavchenko. It went into effect on March 30 and immediately had a chilling effect on the city’s LGBT citizens.
The law fines individuals up to $17,000 for "promoting homosexuality" and "pedophilia" among minors. Anyone who violates the law faces jail time.
The law defines "homosexual propaganda" as "the targeted and uncontrolled dissemination of generally accessible information capable of harming the health and moral and spiritual development of minors," that could create "a distorted impression" of "marital relations." Critics -- and there are many, within the gay community and elsewhere -- claim the law is purposefully vague; does not specifically define what is considered "propaganda"; and doesn’t explain how pedophilia is equivalent to homosexuality.
Russia’s second largest and most European-oriented city is the fourth district in Russia to pass such a "homosexual propaganda" law. Lawmakers from the districts of Ryazan, Arkhangelsk and Kostroma have also created similar measures.
Vague for a Reason
Dina Gusovsky, an international politics columnist and former Russia Today reporter, told EDGE that the law’s ambiguity benefits the government.
"The vagueness of it makes it all the easier for law enforcement to go after individuals they think have violated a law that has such a wide interpretation," she said.
The law does not explain what specific acts of homosexuality could get someone arrested or fined. Someone could violate the law by simply waving a rainbow flag or for participating in a LGBT rally. Gusovsky notes that over 70 people have been arrested under the law and one person has been charged with pedophilia while the rest were charged with spreading "gay propaganda."
Many of the people arrested and fined were activists and protesters. EDGEreported in May that 17 gay activists were arrested under the controversial law for participating in a May Day celebration.
Nikolai Alexeyev, a well-known gay rights activist in Russia, was also arrested under the law in May and told the Associated Press that a city court fined him 5,000 rubles ($170) for violating the measure. According to Yuri Gavrikov, the head of St. Petersburg’s LGBT group Equality, there were no children around where Alexeyev was protesting. Gavrikoy called the law vague as well.
Additionally, EDGE reported that a Russian straight man named Sergey Kondrashov was arrested under the law but became the first citizen to be cleared of "homosexual propaganda" charges. Kondrashov was put behind bars for holding up a gay rights banner in St. Petersburg that read, "A dear family friend is lesbian. My wife and I love and respect her...and her family is just as equal as ours."
St. Petersburg lawmakers who supported the measure claimed it would protect minors from pedophilia. But many question whether the welfare of children was really paramount in legislators’ minds.
Rachel Denber, deputy director of Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, told EDGE she believes there is something more sinister behind the measure.
"I think it’s the government setting boundaries for LGBT people. They want to silence organizations so they back off equal rights and pride parades," she said. "The law’s rhetoric is protecting children." Denber also said it is possible the law would have been passed even if without the supposed goal of protecting minors.